Monday, 30 April 2012

Why the Titanic story still fascinates

Here are a few sobering statistics for you to ponder.

It is estimated that 93,000 people died as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear leak and 139,000 from the floods in Bangladesh in the early 1990s. A massive 200,000 are thought to have perished in the tsunami of 2004 and maybe even more died in the earthquake in Haiti a few years later. All truly horrible statistics.

And sadly, these are not the only natural disasters that have seen the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, but strangely perhaps none of these have spawned the amount of books, films and TV dramas in this country as a disaster that took ‘just’ 1,517 lives 100 years ago.

There is something about what happened to the Titanic – whose maiden voyage ended in tragedy on April 15, 1912 – that has sparked the imagination of so many of us ever since. Thus, millions of people are watching the latest TV drama written by Julian Fellowes on Sunday nights and a huge amount of folk will have been piling into the cinema all week to watch the re-released version of the Titanic film which went on to be the most commercially successful ever made.

I was one of those that did so on Monday having been intrigued as to what this epic movie would look like in its new 3D format. I’m not a great fan of 3D to be honest, and the truth is I’m not sure the extra dimension added much to the experience, but I do know that despite all the films soapy, over-romanticised scenes, the remarkable and breathtaking depiction of the sinking itself makes it a movie that deserves attention.

So what is it about the Titanic that instils this ongoing fascination? And what is it, indeed, that inspired people last week to pay thousands of pounds to go on a journey retracing the Titanic’s course which will culminate on its 100th anniversary in a memorial service at the exact spot where the so-called unsinkable ship sunk?

I think the reason this terrible disaster keeps its grip on us is that despite the fact that this was one of the most opulent and beautifully-fitted vessels the world has ever seen, the Titanic was designed to cater for all and thus was like a floating United Nations with people from all walks of life brought together in a communal celebration of being part of history.

In many ways all of our hopes and dreams were on that ship – it was akin to the moon landings in uniting everyone in admiration of what man could achieve.

How people must have swelled with pride as they saw the unsinkable, glorious ship set off to take people to a new world, a new life and in more comfort than ever before. What a spectacle, what a vision, what a story – and hence what a truly crushing finale which took away people’s hopes and dreams as well as so many lives.

The Titanic tale showed – as so many of those disasters mentioned previously have done – that the best that man can build still counts for nothing against nature and that realisation must have been as painful in 1912 as it is now.

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